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Proposals aimed at helping students from middle-class families

BOSTON --Middle-class families would have access to state education grants now available only to the poor and all students could qualify for free tuition and fees at two-year community colleges under a new program to be considered by the state Board of Higher Education.

A task force working on a $175 million overhaul of the state's college financial aid system gave the board its proposals for discussion at the board meeting Thursday. The board will not act on the proposals, which would require approval by both the board and the state Legislature.

Under the task force's plan, families with incomes of $70,000 or less would qualify for the need-based MASSGrant, with additional factors -- such as family size and number of college students in a family -- determining how much grant money would go to which students. The grants could be used for public or private colleges in the state. They also could be used for schools in the five other New England states, Pennsylvania or Washington D.C.

Board officials have estimated that about 20,000 could be expected to benefit under the proposal.

All students could qualify under the community college proposal by taking college preparatory courses in high school and are qualified for nonremedial college coursework.

"This is about the economy of Massachusetts," Higher Education Chancellor Patricia Plummer said of the new proposals. "The debt burdens that students are taking on only make living here that much more difficult. We want to try to keep young people here in Massachusetts."

Some state legislators have questioned the price tag on the proposed overhaul.

"That's a lot of money," Rep. Kevin Murphy, House chairman of the Joint Committee on Higher Education, told The Boston Globe for a story published Thursday. "Where are we going to get the kind of money?"

However Sen. Robert O'Leary, Senate chairman of the Higher Education Committee, said, "People are having trouble coming up with the money to pay for college, and kids are coming out with more debt, and my whole focus has been that we need more need-based aid."

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Information from: The Boston Globe, http://www.boston.com/globe

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